Internet must remain the driver for democracy and economic development

The first meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) begins yesterday in Athens. It is an important milestone agreed last November at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis (WSIS) as part of the drive to internationalise internet governance, to safeguard freedom online and to bridge the global digital divide. The Commission strongly supports this forum as a unique opportunity for an open multi-stakeholder policy dialogue on internet governance and development, helping to make the Tunis agreement reality.

"The possibility of worldwide communications via the internet is definitely one of the most positive aspects of globalisation", said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, who opened the meeting in Athens with a keynote speech. "However, the internet can only continue to drive democracy and economic development if freedom of expression and the freedom to receive and access information are guaranteed. This is why the European Commission calls on governments and industry around the world not to tolerate public restrictions on internet access or cyber-repression."

The first meeting of the Internet Governance Forum takes place in Athens, Greece, from 30 October to 2 November 2006. This new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue is convened by the UN Secretary-General, as agreed at the Tunis summit. It aims to transparently discuss a broad range of governance topics with all stakeholders.

"Internet Governance for Development" is the overall theme for the inaugural meeting, with the debate focusing on:

  • Openness: Freedom of expression, free flow of information ideas and knowledge.
  • Security: Creating trust and confidence through collaboration.
  • Diversity: Promoting multilingualism and local content.
  • Access: Internet connectivity, policy and cost.

The Forum is a unique opportunity to participate in an open dialogue on the important subject of ICTs and development. Although no negotiated outcomes are planned, dynamic coalitions among stakeholders can emerge.

The EU is particularly committed to the development aspects of Internet governance, as already stressed by the Commission's Communication on the follow-up actions to be given to the Tunis summit.

To promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to aid technology-supported economic development, the EU has launched numerous initiatives to bridge the digital divide. This is to be achieved through sharing experiences of skills creation and e-inclusion, through infrastructure support through, for example, GÉANT, the European multi-gigabit computer network for research and education, and through international cooperation, a longstanding part of successive research programmes and part of ongoing dialogues with the world's regions such as Latin America (@LIS) and the Mediterranean (EUMEDIS).

There has already been some progress on another important aspect of internet governance prior to the Athens meeting of the Internet Governance Forum: On 30 September 2006, the existing Memorandum of Understanding between the US Department of Commerce and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was replaced by lighter 'governance' arrangements, which should end completely by 2009. Commissioner Reding welcomes this decision as a very important step towards full private-sector management of the internet, on which the EU has been working with various US administrations since 1998.

In Athens, the European Commission is being represented by Commissioner Reding. A delegation of members of the European Parliament (Mrs. Trautmann, Mrs. Badia i Cutchet, Mrs. Pleguezuelos, Mr. Harbour, Mr. Chatzimarkakis, Mr. Van Nistelroij and Mr. Herrero-Tejedor) will also be present at the Internet Governance Forum.

For further information, please visit the European Commission website on internet governance:
http://europa.eu.int/information_society/
policy/internet_gov/index_en.htm

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